An interview with former Colby’s star Emma Samms as she takes a guest starring role in Holby City.
One-time Dynasty star Emma Samms kicks off her designer heels in favour of slippers and a hospital gown for BBC One’s medical drama series Holby City.The stunning British-born star – who made it big in LA when she joined the Carrington/Colby household as Fallon in 1984 – sends temperatures soaring on the Holby wards as vulnerable patient Elizabeth Wood.
“In one fell swoop, Holby has enabled me to discard my Dynasty image,” Emma tells Catharine Davey over a pot of tea in Piccadilly’s Athenaeum Hotel.”I look absolutely appalling all the way through! I had to completely give up any shred of vanity because I would have driven myself mad worrying about it. My wardrobe consisted almost entirely of a hospital gown and very little make-up.”
But Emma admits that there was one major benefit to taking to her sick bed in Holby General.The petite actress can confirm that there’s nothing wrong with the bedside manner of Holby anaesthetist Professor Zubin Khan – played by Jewel In The Crown star Art Malik. “Art is a dream to work with,” says Emma. “First of all, when you mention his name, everyone exclaims: ‘Art Malik! The divine Art Malik! You get to do what with Art Malik?’ I must admit that I did encounter a certain amount of envy from my friends! But, in truth, Art is a real gentleman and a brilliant actor. He’d always hold my dressing gown when I was getting out of bed and find my slippers for me.”
Holby City is Emma’s first return to television work since becoming a mother. The actress – who lives two hours from London with her husband and two children, six-year-old Cameron and five-year-old Bea – had no qualms about taking a career break to start a family. “Motherhood is just the best thing,” she says. “It puts any career – particularly a career in acting – completely in perspective. Everything else just seems like silliness in comparison. Having a family was something I’ve always wanted. But it’s quite a shock to go from being an actress and being really pampered and spoilt to being a mother. Gosh, I was not prepared!”
But Emma admits that, though she has no particular future plans of her own, one thing is certainly not on the agenda for her beloved kids. “No!” she exclaims.”I would not like my children to go into acting! It’s a mad career. To have done as well as I have – just in terms of the amount of work that I’ve been offered – is nothing more than a fluke. It’s all about chance and luck.”
However, despite her qualms, Emma has certainly been rich in work since joining ABC’s popular US daytime drama, General Hospital, in 1982 as the conniving Holly Sutton. Leaving behind her waitressing job in a Hollywood diner, she went on to become a Carrington-Colby – stepping lightly into the shoes of first-time Fallon, Pamela Sue Martin. “I did my time working as a waitress,” she says. “I would snack on deli food at work because that was the only way I could afford to eat.Then General Hospital and Dynasty came along and everything changed.”
With a family pedigree that includes a silent film-producer grandfather and a ballerina mother, it’s not surprising that Emma finally decided to tread the boards on being forced to leave London’s Royal Ballet School with a hip condition at the age of 16. But, originally enrolling in a medical course at a North London college, the actress reveals that she almost decided to study medicine instead. “I was dancing from a young age and I didn’t think about acting,” she says. “I did a pre-med course for a while but was lured away by the opportunity of modelling – which is about the silliest thing you can do compared to medical school. I always say that the thought of medical school made me squeamish. It was nothing to do with the blood and guts. It was more the thought of being dependent on my parents for the next five years!”
However, as a qualified emergency medical technician, Emma is not inclined to feel squeamish about the blood and guts of Holby’s operating rooms. In fact, proudly brandishing a Polaroid of her operation scene – which apparently caused quite a stir at her local chemist when she had the film developed – Emma explains why going under the surgeon’s knife at Holby had her in stitches.
“The day I was on the operating table,” she says, “the cast and crew made me laugh for three and a half hours! It was actually difficult to keep still while I was meant to be unconscious because I was shaking with laughter. In fact, the whole experience of working on Holby has been fantastic. It’s one of the nicest jobs I’ve ever had.”
But will the joys of Holby tempt Emma away from her rural family idyll – where she usually divides her limited spare time between scriptwriting, photography and working for her own charity for terminally ill children, the Starlight Foundation? “Working with Starlight is the best part of my career, for sure,” she says. “Being able to do something helpful is the most satisfying thing. My brother was eight when he died of aplastic anaemia, so working with children’s charities will always be a very important thing to me. It puts everything else in perspective.”
For now, Emma is nervously waiting on her Holby reviews before she reveals whether she might make a permanent return to the nation’s television screens. “This has been one of the heaviest roles I’ve ever taken on,” she says. “Maybe the reviews will suggest that I wear more make-up in future and stick to ‘fluffier’ scripts.We’ll have to wait and see. But now that I have no glamour left in my life at all, maybe I should do some really gorgeous pictures to recover. Obviously, severely retouched …”
But, still looking great at 42, whatever the future holds for the gorgeous Emma Samms – one thing’s for certain – she won’t be requiring the solicitous touch of an airbrush for some time to come.